Clicker launches for all--watch it

This online video directory service is the best TV search engine we've seen.

The online video directory service Clicker launches Thursday at the NewTeeVee Live conference. If you watch TV, you will love this site.

Clicker is not a full-on video search engine like Bing or Google, and it's not a video-viewing site like Hulu. It is, instead, a carefully curated directory of full-length video content, with several extremely nice features and user interface flourishes that make it a good first stop online if you're looking for an episode of your favorite show to watch.

Unlike a search engine, Clicker won't give you every last shred of online video on your search query. If you're looking for the "Dr. Horrible Sing-along Blog" on Bing or Google, you'll get hundreds of clips and related videos. On Clicker, just four: the three 15-minute episodes individually plus all of them combined into one long stream. Each video also has a very good "Related" sidebar showing other videos that are thematically linked. No matter what I threw at it, I found the Related suggestions pertinent.

Clicker's behind-the-scenes engine is constantly crawling video sources to add and remove content as necessary. The "remove" part is key, as many networks take episodes off the Web as frequently as they add them.

Clicker is a great site for finding professional video content. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

In the Clicker interface, an auto-completing search box that's focused just on video makes it incredibly fast to find content. Searching within a show (for example, looking for "Clinton" in the Daily Show page) is also very fast, as the search results change in real time as you type.

When you want to watch a video, Clicker plays it either by linking to the source, such as aggregator like Hulu or a network site like that of CBS or AMC, or it displays an embeddable player. This depends on the content owner's terms of use. Some content is not available for free, but Clicker knows that it can be streamed on Amazon.com or Netflix; Clicker will direct users to log on to their accounts on those services.

This service does an amazing job of taming the morass of online video, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The site has been in private beta for a few months; it is scheduled to go live Thursday at 10:30 a.m. PST.

What's next

Clicker directs viewers to the rights-holders' sites. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

But this isn't the end of the story for Clicker. The shame of this product is that it is in many ways a better television experience than you can get on your TV. Unless you connect your computer to your living room TV, you're going to have to sit in front of your PC or laptop when you want to watch a show. A partnership with Boxee will yield a better set-top-like experience for the service, Clicker CEO Jim Lanzone told me. An iPhone player will follow next, and the service will be smart enough not to find videos you can't play on that device.

From a business perspective, advertising will become a part of the model, although Clicker won't try to get in the way of pre-roll videos from the content sources. In some key vertical content areas, though, like health and finance, Lanzone thinks there's a good opportunity. Also, Clicker could end up driving traffic to sites like Hulu and could potentially monetize those click-throughs.

The challenge for Clicker is to get viewers to know about it. A strong SEO effort will be applied to get Google searchers to the site when they're looking for shows. That will help. There may also be privately labeled versions of the service for various institutions. But--and I rarely say this--this service is good enough to grow organically. Once you try Clicker, you'll be back again.

Listen to a Larry Magid discussion with Clicker CEO Jim Lanzone.

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